Home » Apocrypha Stuff » A Brief Look at the Shepherd of Hermas:

A Brief Look at the Shepherd of Hermas:



The Shepherd of Hermas is an intriguing document which had found a wide popularity among the early church fathers in particular those of the West[1].  In particular one could note that Rufinus speaks of the book as something which was read in the churches, though something which shouldn’t be used in discussing theology[2].  Or that for others such as Irenaeus, or Clement of Alexandria, Origen (for a time), each considered the work as scripture[3].  The Shepherd can be placed alongside other New Testament Apocryphal books such as the Epistles Barnabas, or Acts of Paul in its popularity[4].


The Greek text of the Shepherd has not fared well, no single Greek manuscript has the full text and even if placed together, the Greek is still lacking a significant portion (107.3-114.5)[5].  However the Shepherd does appeared in full in several translation notable the Latin Version and the Ethiopic Versions[6].  Osiek points out that the Latin translations are “invaluable” especially concerning where we are still lacking it in the Greek, the L1 being quite old, and that the  L2 translation from the either fourth or fifth century[7]. However concerning the Ethiopic, its value is less so, since translator seems to have modified the text so to speak to fit his theological tendencies[8].

Finally the last important witness to the Greek text are the various quotations of the Church Fathers, who quoted it in Greek such as Origen or Clement of Alexandria[9].


Of who the author of the Shepherd is opinions are mixed a range from a wide area.  Origen had suggested that it was the Hermas mentioned in Romans 16.14[10][11].  While the Muratorian canon mentions the work as being done by Hermas, the brother of Pius (the Bishop of Rome around 140-154 AD)[12].   Other have suggested that the work was done not by one writher, but by two or more H.W. Thiersch suggested the work was begun by the Hermas of Romans while and completed by another in the second century[13].  In any event the work would seem to have originated in Rome (and it does involve the church there)[14].

On another note, while Hermas has been as being written by multiple authors, a single author has always been the majority position and most scholars today prefer the single author idea, although they would admit to there being multiple sources or redactions in its formation[15].


Lake in his introduction of the works notes that the book deals primarily with repentance and that says that “we have here the beginning of the Catholic doctrine of penance[16].”  In dealing with the Shepherd one could note that writer is trying to figure out with how one is supposed to deal with sin after they their baptism, in the end we that yes God is merciful although there is still a “strict moralism,” to it all[17].  Interesting enough one place where the Shepherd deals with repentance he argues for marriage reconciliation (even after divorce) for adultery if the partner repents[18][19].  The Shepherd’s views concerning repentance had mixed audience some such as Tertullian thought that it was too liberal while other viewed it as too conservative[20].

The document in itself shows view points from a variety of sides, some see no repentance (31.1[21]) while others see God’s mercy as continually (43.4[22]), and Hermas himself seems to seek both (31.2-7[23])[24].  His focus on the issues of such things as dealing with sins and repentance and the way in which this shown all help to show why The Shepherd became so popular[25].

[1] Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers : Greek Texts and English Translations, Updated ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1999). 328.

[2] Carolyn Osiek and Helmut Koester, Shepherd of Hermas : A Commentary, Hermeneia–a critical and historical commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999). 6.

[3] Holmes 329

[4] As evidenced concerning that it appears with Barnabas in Codex Sinaiticus and in Codex Claromontanus with Barnabas again plus the Acts of Paul and Apocalypse of Peter (see Osiek pp. 6-7)

[5] David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1996, c1992). 3:148

[6] Joseph Barber Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, The Apostolic Fathers (London: Macmillan and Co., 1891). 295.

[7] Osiek 2

[8] Osiek 2

[9] Lightfoot 295

[10] “Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them.” – ESV

[11] Holmes 330

[12] Freedman 3:148

[13] Osiek 9

[14] Freedman 3:148

[15] Osiek 9-10

[16] Kirsopp Lake, The Loeb classical library (London; New York: Heinemann; Macmillan, 1912-13). 2:1-3.

[17] Holmes 328

[18] The passage in view is 29.6-8 (Man. 4.1.6–8): “So what, sir,” I said, “should the husband do, if the wife persists in this passion?” “Let him divorce her,” he said, “and let the husband live by himself. But if after divorcing his wife he should marry another, then he too commits adultery.” “So then, sir,” I said, “if, after the wife is divorced, she repents and wants to return to her own husband, she will be taken back, won’t she?”  “Certainly,” he said. “If the husband does not take her back, he sins, and brings a major sin upon himself. In fact, the one who has sinned and repented must be taken back. But not repeatedly: for there is only one repentance for God’s servants. So, because of the possibility of her repentance, the husband ought not to marry. This procedure applies to wife and husband.”

[19] Osiek 4

[20] Osiek 5

[21] “Sir,” I said, “I would like to ask a further question.” “Speak,” he said. “Sir,” I said, “I have heard from certain teachers that there is no other repentance beyond that which occurred when we descended into the water and received forgiveness of our previous sins.”

[22] So, those who are strong in the faith of the Lord, having clothed themselves with the truth, do not associate with such spirits, but have nothing to do with them. But those who are double-minded and frequently change their minds practice fortune telling like the pagans and bring greater sin upon themselves by their idolatries. For the one who consults a false prophet on any matter is an idolator and lacks the truth and is senseless.

[23] He said to me, “You have heard correctly, for so it is. For the one who has received forgiveness of sins ought never to sin again, but to live in purity.  But since you inquire so precisely about everything, I will show you this also, so as to give no excuse for those who will believe at some time in the future, or those who have just now believed in the Lord. For those who have just now believed, or those who are going to believe do not have repentance for sins, but they do have forgiveness of their previous sins.  So, for those who were called before these days the Lord has established repentance. For since the Lord knows every heart and knows everything in advance, he knew the weakness of human beings and the cunning of the devil, and that he would do something evil to God’s servants and treat them wickedly.  But the Lord, however, who is exceedingly merciful, had mercy on his creation and established this opportunity for repentance, and authority over this repentance was given to me.  But I am warning you,” he said, “if, after this great and holy call, anyone is tempted by the devil and sins, he has one opportunity for repentance. But if he sins repeatedly and repents, it is of no use for such a person, for he will scarcely live.”  I said to him, “I was restored to life again when I heard these things from you so precisely. For I now know that if I no longer add to my sins, I will be saved.” “You will be saved,” he said, “and so will everyone else who does these things.”

[24] Freedman 3:148.

[25] Holmes 328


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